Review: Dirt Circus League by Maree Kimberley

Asa’s running from a troubled past. To a remote outback town, a disappointing father and a fresh start that’s already souring.

But then the notorious Dirt Circus League arrives. A troupe of outcast teens performing spectacular fight sequences and challenging any who dares to take part. They’re ruthless. Menacing. Thrilling. And led by the magnetic Quarter. He’s dark, powerful and intensely attractive—and he faces a threat only Asa can see.

Will Asa be drawn into the league’s mysterious community? And, as she discovers the violent secrets at its heart, will she delve into her own untapped abilities to save herself—and heal those caught in its evil web?

Rating: 2/5

Review

While I have to admit that I’ve mostly grown out of YA these days, there will always a be special place in my heart for Aussie YA, due to a combination of nostalgia and the fact that Australian YA authors routinely hit it out of the park with stories that are uniquely relatable. Throw in some paranormal elements and I expected to love this book, but sadly it wasn’t the case.

Dirt Circus League follows Asa, who has recently moved to north Queensland from Brisbane, in search of a fresh start. We quickly learn that Asa has had a rough childhood and constantly been let down by those who are meant to care for her, and she has problems trusting others as a result. It’s a classic YA premise that typically works well, but that was where my troubles began with this book. Asa (and the other side characters) had no consistent personality and simply did whatever was necessary to advance the plot. One minute, Asa is deeply suspicious of everyone, the next, she’s throwing herself in with a crazy cult without a second thought. Characters fight and then fall in love in the space between one breath and the next.

I also struggled with the plot itself: frankly, there was way too much happening in Dirt Circus League and none of it came together in a cohesive fashion. The synopsis focuses on the fighting element, but that’s only a small part of this story. This is also an eco-thriller of sorts, about a group of teenagers who worship Gaia and are dedicated to protecting the earth, only Asa sorts learns that their devotion to Gaia has led to a cult-like community which takes ritual sacrifice very seriously. Oh, and there’s a Lovecraftian horror sub-plot involving a creepy surgeon (the only adult in the community) who conducts scientific experiments on the teens, including attempts to develop human-animal hybrids. None of this is built upon or explained in enough detail to make sense of why these things are happening, and it all feels very incongruous when stuck together.

There were a few things I liked about Dirt Circus League: one is where Asa finds herself at the end of the story (which I won’t spoil except to say I found it refreshing for YA fiction), and the other is the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to country in Far North Queensland. But, unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed this book or that I would recommend it to others.

Note: I received an ARC from Text Publishing. Dirt Circus League will be released on 30 March 2021.

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